Category Archives: Military

Tour de Suisse – Day 3: Axalp

After our days at Payerne and Buochs & Emmen, we saved the best for last. On Thursday the 11th of October we visited the Fliegerschiessen at the Axalp – Ebenfluh range, one of the things that had been on my to-do list for a very long time.

Getting there
Tschingel climb
The climb onto the Tschingel started in the dark

Visiting Axalp airshow is not an easy thing to do, as the shooting range where this even takes place is located at an altitude of 2240m. This means that you can’t simply drive there, get out of your car and enjoy the show. There is a whole lot more effort required.

Tschingel Axalp
There is not really a path towards Tschingel

In order to be on the Tschingel mountain on time, an early start was required. At 05.30 the shuttle bus was taken from Brienz train station. This bus brought you in 40 minutes to the mountain village of Axalp at an altitude of 1540m. At this point we transited into the Axalp-Windegg skilift that brought us to an altitude of 1910m. from there on the “fun part” started, a 2 hour walk of about 2km, in which a further 300 meters were scaled. This is no walk in the park at all, as you start in the dark (it only starts to get light after 7.00) and the terrain is very unprepared/steep, there is no real track. You only know where to go because of the guidelines set out by the military and the lights of other climbers in front of you; a torch is absolutely needed.

Tschingel Axalp
The last part of the climb is absolutely very steep

So, after climbing for about 2 hours the destination was finally reached. The last part of the climb was for sure the toughest with a gradient of approximately 60%. At this point I was sweating like a donkey and was very happy that I brought an extra t-shirt, as the first one was soaked and there was a bitter cold wind. After I had regained my breath, I could finally enjoy the beautiful view over lake Brienz and the surrounding mountains.

Tschingel Axalp
The spectacular view from the spectator area

We then waited for the first aircraft to arrive at the Axalp range. The Axalp-Ebenfluh range is a shooting area that was established in 1942. The Swiss Air Force uses this area to practice air-to ground gunnery, during which the Hornets and Tigers shoot their canons on ground targets mounted on the rock face. Every year in October this airshow is organized so that the audinece can also view the shooting exercises. Next to that, other aerial displays are also shown on these days.

axalp target
Shooting at one of the targets with high-explosive rounds
The morning part

The airshow only takes place in the afternoon, but in the morning there is still plenty to see, as the shooting part is practised by the F-5s and F/A-18s. During these practice runs we got our first taste of what awaited us later that day. It all started with the arrival ofthe Hornets, this formation of four aircraft flew low though the valley, meanwhile dropping flares, to ensure they got our attention.

Then they approached the targets from all different directions, shooting their cannons and using the afterburners to manoeuvre through the area.

Hornet Axalp

Once the Hornets had finished their part of the fun, it was time for the F-5 Tigers. The shooting from the Tigers was te main reason why I came here, as this was the final time that the F-5s would shoot their cannons at the Axalp Range. The F-5 will finally be withdrawn from service in 2026 (a replacement is currently being sought), but will already be disarmed this year. From then on, the F-5 will only act as an Agressor aircraft and will still perform target towing duties. The F-5 pilots surely wanted to leave in style, as already during the practice runs they showed up from behind the audience and shot their guns at the same moment. Compared with the full afterburners, this scared the hell out of you.

F-5 Axalp

Then it was time for the lunch break, or as the Swiss probably call it Raclette-time. Everywhere around us we saw campinggaz burners coming out of the backpacks and soon people were enjoying their fondue or raclette at 2240m altitude.  We came to the conclusion that it was much easier to walk towards the catering tent and just buy a Raclette Sandwich over there.

EC.635 Axalp

Towards the end of the lunchbreak Cougar helicopters started flying in from nearby Meiringen airbase to drop of the VIP guests, these guests did not have to walk up the mountain and had an easy arrival. At this point also the REGA helicopter and Swiss Air Force rescue helicopters arrived. They were both parked at the mountain in order to be ready to provide assistance for the several thousands of spectators, if need be.

Rega EC.635 Axalp
The Rega rescue helicopter parked at Axalp
Afternoon action

Then it was time for the airshow to start. This started with the Hornets that we had already seen practising in the morning. Since we now already had an idea what to expect, we could try to get the best pictures of their display.

Hornet Axalp

Axalp

Next up was the Cougar display, this display was started with a huge amount of flares and then hugged the mountainsides. A nice extra was the wave from the crew, wearing orange gloves for this.

Cougar Axalp

Cougar Axalp

After the Cougar had left, 2 more Cougars approached. Both were carrying Bambi Buckets full of water, to display the fire fighting skills of the Swiss Air Force. Both of them dropped the water right on the target, so this must have been a succesfull mission.

Then narrator then warned us that an unidentified aircraft was approaching the area and that the Swiss Air Force mission control centre would scramble two QRA Hornets from Payerne. The fully armed aircraft quickly intercepted the intruder (in reality a Swiss Air Force Citation jet) and then showed all the techniques that are used in Air Policing. The goal of this was to establish contact with the intruding aircraft to ultimately force him to land at a desired airfield.

Hornet Axalp

Hornet Axalp

After the Citation had “landed” successfully, three aircraft showed up. These aircraft were the PC-7, PC-21 and F/A-18, as every fighter pilot will fly on all these types before becoming a qualified fighter pilot.

The formation was then split up, after which the Hornet Solo Display was performed. When the Hornet finished the display, the PC-21 display took over, showing the flexibility of this new training aircraft.

Hornet Axalp

Hornet Axalp

PC-21 Axalp

After this display was finished, the moment we had waited for came, the F-5s approached the area once more for their final shooting exercise. This display was even faster and louder than the one we had enjoyed in the morning. This did not make it easy to take pictures, but just enjoying the sights and sounds was already great. Finally two more F-5s joined the fun, and these had high-explosive rounds loaded into their cannons.  Seeing them shoot at the targets was an absolute spectacle.

F-5 Axalp

As this was the final F-5 round at Axalp, the organisation had arranged something special to close this era. The six F-5s that had been shooting at Axalp joined up with the six Patrouille Suisse F-5s and toghether this formation of 12 Tigers flew across Axalp. The Patrouille Suisse then continued to show their complete show, which is rather spectacular in this mountain environment.

F-5 Axalp

The Patrouille Suisse show was also the final act of the day, so we could start the descent towards the skilift. If you thought that climbing the mountain was tough, then be prepared for this. As the mountain is very steep, only stepping dow carefully was possible (even though some locals were almost running down). This has a great impact on your legs, knees and ankles. Once at the skilift, it was finally time for some rest, which continued in the bus down towards Brienz.

View towards the Tschingel when walking back towards the skilift.
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Fire Bucket Operations in Hengelo

In the weekend of 30 June 2018 the Twence waste recycling facility in Hengelo was struck by a large fire. The fire was so intense that the Koninklijke Luchtmacht had to assist the fire brigade with Chinook helicopters.

On the evening of 30 June 2018 the fire brigade was alarmed for a fire at Twence waste recycling. Upon arrival at 23.00, it quickly became clear that a lot of resources and water were needed to extinguish the large pile of garbage. Throughout the night extra fire crews were alarmed to avoid further spreading of the fire.

Soon it became clear the a fire this large could not be battled in the traditional way. Therefore the fire brigade asked the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF/Koninklijke Luchtmacht) for assistance; in the middle of the night Fire Bucket Operations (FBO) was alarmed. FBO is a partnership between the RNLAF, fire brigade Safety Region North and East Gelderland (VNOG) and the Institute for Physical Safety (IFV).

In the morning of the 1st of July, a RNLAF CH-47D Chinook  flew to Hengelo to assist the fire brigades. Later in the afternoon a second Chinook arrived. Next to the helicopter crew, a FBO team was on site. This team consist of the Fire Brigade Heli-Team and the Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT DHC). This team coordinates the helicopter operations and also makes sure that the 10,000 liter Bambi Bucket is hooked up to the Chinook.

During the next 2 days, Chinooks flew to a quarry next to Boekelo in order to pick up water. The vicinity of this quarry made it possible to perform many runs over the fire. Normally approximately 10 runs could be made before the helicopters had to fly to Deelen Airbase for refuelling. The last drops were made around 20.00, after which the Bambi Bucket was returned to the FBO team and the Chinook returned to Gilze-Rijen airbase.

 

As a result of the assistance with the Chinooks, the fire brigade was able to contain the fire and reduce the smoke in a substantial way.  In the evening of 2 July the fire brigade announced that the fire was under control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s get dirty

After I visited the GLV-V low flying area in 2017 (see http://niekvanderzande.nl/wordpress/helicopter-action-in-glv-v/), I decided it was time to eat some dirt again. Therefore Ramon Wenink and I headed south last week to try our luck in this unique environment.

The day we visited GLV-V was the day with the best weather forecast of the week, 27 degrees and sun. However, the day started cloudy, grey and rather windy, which made the stay not really that comfortable. We were therefore really waiting for either helicopter action, sunshine, or both.

The action started with a 301 Sqn Apache, exercising throughout the area. Unfortunately the sun was not out yet, otherwise the pictures would have been even nicer.

During the day, the army was also practising in the area with Bushmasters, Boxers and Fennecs, giving a nice variety of gear that could be seen in combination with helicopters.

In the afternoon, the sun came out and we were twice treated to a visiting Chinook (both time the same one). During the second visit, we had the opportunity to get close to the brown-out landing, which resulted in some very interesting pictures.

Brown Out sequence

Extracting the forces

 

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Es donnert auf der Heide

On the 9th of June 2018 the German Ministry of Defense hosted the Tag der Bundeswehr, during which 15 military bases across the country opened the gates for the general public. One of these bases was the Wehrtechnische Dienststelle für Waffen und Munition 91 (WTD91) in Meppen.

WTD91 in Meppen is a unique location, as it actually is a unit with both military and civillian staff where new weapons and munition are tested. For these purposes, the unit can use a 19200 hectare instrumented shooting range, which measures approximately 31 by 7 kilometers.

Meppen Range (EDR34) in Northern Germany, as shown on aviation charts

Weapons, weaponssystems, guided missiles, drones and armour are tested in Meppen for the German army, navy and  airforce. WTD91 boasts a unique professional experience in the disciplines of balistics, acoustics, optronics and meteorology when it comes to military equipment.

The Tiger attack helicopter on the ground before the display

During the Tag der Bundeswehr, the visitors were welcomed onto the general area of WTD91 where they could see the equipment of the German army up close, from the Fennek reconaissance vehicle up to the immense PzH2000 howitzer. On the other side of the street, the WTD village was showing the various WTD units from accross the country. These units showed various military innovations that they are currently working on, from 3D printing and robotics via temporary camouflage paint onto an electronic quad from the Trier based WTD41.

Bundeswehrfeuerwehr

A few meters further the highlight of the day was reached, this was were the dynamic weapons display took place 3 times per day for 45 minutes. This weapons display was not only dynamic by the fact that the various military vehicles moved in front of the public, next to that live shots were fired to show the visitors the power and precision of the weapons.

The display started exactly on the hour with a first missile being fired from the LARS rocketlauncher. This first missile was fired to determine if it reached the right target area, situated 12 kilometers further. Once this was confirmed, a salvo of 15 rockets was fired. At this point it became quite clear why visitors had to wear ear protection and why children under the age of 14 years were not allowed at the dynamic weapons display.

The LARS missile system is no longer in use with the Bundeswehr, but WTD 91 still had plenty of rockets in stock to be fired.
LARS firing sequence

Next up was the Dingo armoured transport vehicle, shooting the remote fired MG5 machinegun at several balloons, destroying them all. When the Dingo drove off, the next weapons system was already prepared for action in the form of the MG6 machinegun. This machinegun has 6 barrels and can fire 6000 shots per minute. By using this massive firepower, an array of 400 clay pigeons was cleared in no time.

Then the heavy, tracked vehicles showed up on the range. First to display its firepower was the Puma Schützenpanzer which can transport 6 armed soldiers onto the battlefield. The Puma is equipped with a 30mm machine cannon, with which it destroyed the water barrels that simulated targets on the range. The puma was then followed by the Leopard 2. This main battle tank was staffed by a mixed German/Dutch crew. First it fired the 120mm canon whilst standing still, the next shot was fired whilst driving at full speed. The Leopard was then followed by the PzH2000 howitzer firing the mighty 155mm canon at a target 12km away.

Puma in action
Leopard 2
PzH2000

Then, during a short parade of the ENOK, EAGLE IV and Boxer, a display was given how troops would be inserted and extracted from the battlefield.

After the ground-based displays, all eyes were focused onto the sky, as it was time for the aerial display of WTD61s Tiger attack helicopter. An array of impressive manouevres was shown directly in front of the guests, so that they could get an impression on the versatility of this helicopter.

When the Tiger display was over, it was announced that Meppen could see some aerial visitors as well. First up was a C-160D Transall from LTG63 in Hohn. This Transall flew along all Tag der Bundeswehr bases in northern Germany and treated the audience to a Sarajevo approach. The final visitor of the day was the Transall’s successor, an Airbus A.400M from LTG62 in Wunstorf, that flew accross the entire country to visit Tag der Bundeswehr events during which it was in the air for more than 6 hours.

 

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